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Hektor Esparza P u s h For ward Skate Mentor Program

The challenge: Tagging. Fights. Drug use. In 2006, Winchester Cultural Center Skate Park drew a rough crowd of dropouts resembling an outtake from gangsploitation B movie “The Warriors.” The county wanted to shut down the ramps. But cultural programs supervisor Patrick Gaffey gave it one last shot by staffing the park. He asked skate instructor Hektor Esparza for help, hiring him to police and keep bad elements at bay. But Esparza was no rent-a-cop. He knew the best way to truly clean up the place was to engage kids head-on and put them on a path of self-cultivation. To teach them the art of skateboarding and its rich history — how skate culture impacted alternative music, filmmaking and photography. “There was skepticism expressed that I could get teens interested in the arts, much less higher ed,” says Esparza. The solution: In his 30s, Esparza holds his own on the ramps. This way he earns kids’ respect and they meet an adult skater. He explains how skaters are leaders in the arts — director Spike Jonze (“Adaptation”) to painter/photographer Ed Templeton. Esparza, a writer himself, taught six weeks of skate instruction, which included a sit-down class on the history of skate culture. Kids signed up to learn how to

carve and grind; they also discovered how the sport they love is an art, too. Esparza organized contests, inviting industry pros to discuss competitive skating and nutritionists to explain how breakfasting on a bag of Funyuns can hurt a half-pipe performance. Esparza formed a Winchester skate team, requiring kids to audition on boards and with their art — drawing, rapping, writing, whatever. They had to be passing classes and on track to graduate. He took the team on field trips from CSN’s Charleston campus to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “I’m impressed with the impact the program has had,” Gaffey says. “There are a number of skaters who, thanks to Hektor, will be first in their family to attend college. He has changed their views of themselves and the world.” Six years and 500 students later, Esparza gave up his job to collaborate with Winchester via his nonprofit Push Forward. He hopes to spread Winchester’s success to the valley’s 30 other skate parks with an ambitious mentoring program. “Fewer kids getting arrested and into trouble means more kids going to college,” he says. (www.pushforwardskateboarding.org) — Jarret Keene

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Desert Companion - November 2012  

Your guide to living in southern Nevada